… Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally, Sat 8th Sept …
Round 6 – 2018 MSA ARR Craib Scottish Rally Championship …
There was a double celebration at the end of the Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally. First to pop the champagne corks in the shadow of Threave House were rally winners David Bogie and John Rowan plus second placed Garry Pearson and Dale Bowen alongside 3rd placed Jonny Greer and Liam Regan. Then there was a second top three for the Scottish Championship top points scorers, followed by a more boisterous and rousing reception for the new 2018 ARR Craib Scottish Rally Champions, Andrew Gallacher and Jane Nicol.
Phew! And there were more champagne showers from other category winners including the top 2WD pairing of Greg McKnight and Harry Marchbank which prompted the worrying thought, is Harry old enough to drink? I don’t think he’s started shaving yet!
Anyway that was then, the rally proper started some 8 hours earlier, and after the previous day’s dry gravel and great clouds of stoor trailing behind the cars at the Test Day, rally day dawned under dark grey skies and persistent, drenching drizzle. Fortunately it gave way to sunshine and drier conditions as the day wore on, but the first two stages were in slimy, treacherous condition.
Those conditions probably had a part to play in the drama that was about to unfold. Prior to the rally start, Andrew Gallacher was in the best position to win his first national rally title. Although only 3 points behind, Donnie MacDonald needed to win but also needed at least two points scoring cars between himself and Andrew. A tall order perhaps, but this is stage rallying. Anything could happen – and often does.
And so it did. Within a mile of the start of the very first stage at Laggan O’Dee (Cairn Edward), the outcome of this year’s Scottish Championship title had been decided.
As Donnie MacDonald explained later: “Less than a third of a mile into the stage there was a tight left hander at the end of a straight. I was in the middle of the road all the way, I don’t understand it. I just caught a rock and slid into a hole,” he said, “my big mistake was thinking I could just drive on straight out of it, when I should have stopped and reversed.”
“When we passed Donnie, we just couldn’t believe it,” said Andrew Gallacher, “that took the pressure off us right away. We didn’t even need to finish, the title was ours.” An almost carnival atmosphere thereafter prevailed inside the Ford Focus cabin as Gallacher and co-driver Jane Nicol played to the crowds with antics unbefitting a serious competition! Mind you, Jane must have had quite a job on her hands keeping Andrew in check. Telling him to behave is like telling Frankie Boyle to clean up his act.
Meanwhile back at the rally, Bogie was in demonstration mode. For someone who claimed it takes a bit of time and mental adjustment to get “back into gravel rallying after mostly recent tarmac experience” he was making it look pretty much business as usual. First time out in a new Skoda Fabia R5, Bogie set the pace and never looked back. He and John Rowan set fastest time on all five stages.
Despite expressing doubts about the weather and stage conditions prior to the start, Jonny Greer and Liam Regan were right on the ball from the off. They were only 2 seconds behind Garry Pearson and Dale Bowen over the first stage. “Driving on either dry or wet tarmac doesn’t bother me,” said Jonny, “but I’m not so sure about the difference between dry and wet gravel.” Jock Armstrong was best of the rest in the Subaru but already 6 seconds behind Greer although ahead of Freddie Milne and John Wink who had been looking noticeably quick and impressive at the previous day’s Test. Like MacDonald, Ian Baumgart had a woopsie in here, but he went one further than Donnie and rolled the Subaru, and that’s not like him either. Brian Watson was first on the scene and stopped to check the boys were OK so he got a Notional time but that worked out well, he had already broken a steering arm on the Subaru!
Bogie was up and away and gone through the second test Black Loch where Pearson was another 4 seconds quicker than Greer: “Today is all about getting back on the pace,” said Garry, “I’m not thinking about where I finish, just getting back on the pace.” Armstrong was well back, some 13 seconds behind Greer: “The windscreen misted up badly,” he explained then added that he was being given advice by a former champion rally driver, his sister Barbara: “She told me just to stay in the middle of the road and I’ll be fine – everyone else will fall off!” Milne equalled his 4th fastest time while two more equalled 5th fastest time, Mark McCulloch and John Wink. Just behind those two, Michael Binnie was showing good form and well in the hunt for top six finish. Lawrence Whyte dropped 4 minutes in here: “The car stepped out on a Left hander and just knocked a tyre off the rim. Then we struck something so we had to stop and change the wheel.”
The third test featured 10 miles in Glentrool where Bogie repeated his disappearing act but Greer took 9 seconds out of Pearson: “This is the first time I’ve rallied in the wet for two years,” said Garry. John Wink raised eyebrows with 4th fastest time while Andrew Gallacher shook free of Jane’s restraining orders and was 5th fastest ahead of Milne. Jock was 40 seconds down on the rally leader on this one stage alone with his ongoing troubles and it was good to see Mike Faulkner and Peter Foy back, just a couple of seconds behind Armstrong. Mark McCulloch was off the pace in here: “We hit a compression very hard,” said Mark, “and the car just cut out, then stalled.” Less fortunate was Michael Binnie, the Mitsubishi coming to rest in a forestry ditch.
On the return visit to Black Loch quite a few folk actually said conditions were better second time through, but then the rain had stopped and the sun was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds. Bogie barely noticed as he sped through quickest once again from Greer who took another second out of Pearson, leaving the two Fiesta R5 drivers separated by 4 seconds going into the final stage – in Greer’s favour. Gallacher was obviously playing little heed to Nicol’s cautionary advice and was 4th quickest ahead of Wink and Armstrong. Freddie Milne’s hopes of a podium finish were scuppered here when the Subaru limped out of the forest with two punctures and McCulloch suffered another delay when he caught the car in front limping out with a puncture: “To be fair, he pulled over as soon as he could, but there was nowhere to go when we first caught up with him,” said Mark.
Going into the final stage at Cairn Edward Pearson was well fired up for this final thrash: “We had been given a wrong time for the 4th stage,” he explained, “so we went into the last one not quite sure of where we were.” The result was a 10 second faster time than the visiting Northern Irish crew and second place overall, although Greer was “happy enough, and better than I hoped” in third place.
With a change of diff map at final service, Armstrong was 4th quickest by a second from Wink who capped an impressive outing with 5th fastest stage time and 4th place overall just edging Armstrong out by 3 seconds. Lawrence Whyte appeared in the top six stage times on the final stage for first time: “Not much luck today,” he said, we’ve had four punctures in the previous four stages!”
Freddie Milne rounded off the top six overall with any hopes of a podium finish punctured after his two tyre failures punctures with Mark McCulloch was 7th after his mishaps while Gallacher finished 8th overall and was every bit as delighted as if he had won the rally. Although there was a moment of poignancy when he realised what he had achieved. He is only the first son of a former winner of Scotland’s top rallying title to have repeated that feat.
A delighted Keith Morris finished 9th and Greg McKnight finished top 2WD in 10th place overall and might well have put the Escort further up the leaderboard had it not been for a big moment on the final stage at a Left7 over a crest. At least he survived it, Gordon Murray whacked a tree at the same point! Alan Dickson’s form is improving with each outing and he finished 11th just ahead of Richard Dickson contesting just his second rally of the year. He only does two each year, the Solway Coast and this one! Just imagine what he could do if he contested a full season.
1 David Bogie/John Rowan (Skoda Fabia R5) 38m 04s
2 Garry Pearson/Dale Bowen (Ford Fiesta R5) +0.45
3 Jonny Greer/Liam Regan (Ford Fiesta R5) +0.51
4 John Wink/Mat Edwards (Hyundai i20 R5) +1.58
5 Jock Armstrong/Cameron Fair (Subaru Impreza) +2.01
6 Freddie Milne/Patrick Walsh (Subaru Impreza WRC) +2.25
7 Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry (Subaru Impreza) +2.45
8 Andrew Gallacher/Jane Nicol (Ford Focus WRC) +2.52
9 Keith Morris/Terry Mallin (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) +4.45
10 Greg McKnight/Harry Marchbank (Ford Escort Mk2) +5.02
Scott Peacock/Robin Neil (MG ZR)
Donald Peacock/Mark Roberts (Peugeot 205)
Keith Riddick/Steven Clark (MG ZR)
John O’Kane/Meghan O’Kane (Ford Escort Mk2)
Stanley Orr/Graham Henderson (Ford Escort Mk1)
Luke McLaren/Phil Kenny (Honda Civic)
Greg Pollock/Helen Brown (Ford Escort Mk1)
Richard Dixon/Roger Alcorn (Subaru Impreza)